5 Things You Should Know About Pregnancy and Birth (Way Before You Are Pregnant)

In the last two years or so, I’ve read dozens of books and articles about birth, attended a childbirth class and a breastfeeding class and support group, and built up a collection of pregnancy books that now occupies a full shelf. I follow all kinds of birth-related organizations on Facebook and Twitter and love reading all kinds of stories about pregnancy and birth

But I don’t have any babies. I’m not pregnant. I do want kids eventually, but at this particular moment in my life,  ‘pregnant’ is probably one of the last things I’d want to be. And if you’re between the ages of 15 and 25, I’m guessing you’re in a similar mindset.

I’ve been learning so much about pregnancy in birth in part for academic research: in my senior year of college, I completed a 50-page thesis on obstetric fistulas, a childbirth injury, and a 20-page capstone on home births in the United States. I am also an aspiring midwife, so I’ve attended some workshops and classes to bring me closer to that goal.

And I just think birth is really cool.

All my workshops and reading and writing about birth have really changed the way I’ve thought about birth and opened my eyes to why so many people, even women who have or want to have kids, feel uncomfortable or grossed out talking about birth. 

I wrote the points below to share with you some of the ways I’ve starting thinking differently about pregnancy and birth. Don’t worry - there are no gory details! (Although if you want those, I can give you some recommended reading.) 

It’s okay to talk about pregnancy and birth - even if you’re so not there yet.

Lots of people think it’s weird for unmarried young women to discuss specifics about pregnancy. It’s only thanks to anthropologists (who don’t think anything is weird) that my thesis and capstone on birth-related topics got done my senior year of college.

But do you know how much there is to know about pregnancy and birth? And there’s no way you’re going to learn and process and apply it all during the nine months of your pregnancy.

So it’s okay to learn a little bit beforehand - to stick around when your cousin talks about her birth experience, or to ask your mom about how she gave birth to you. Everyone on Earth has been born, so a curiosity about how that precisely takes place is really only to be expected.

Right now, it is not a cultural norm for people to talk about pregnancy and birth. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do it. It can only become normal if people start doing it! 

Your body was designed for the natural process of pregnancy.

Every human that has ever existed first had to grow inside a uterus. And since the human population is still rapidly increasing, I think it’s safe to say that uteruses do a pretty good job of growing humans. For thousands of years, the only way for humans to get out of the uterus in which they were growing was to exit through the vagina, which they did with remarkable success, considering the only knowledge women had about that process was what their mothers and grandmothers and aunties told them.

The female body does some astounding things during pregnancy and birth - you know, just the regular processes that GROW A FRICKIN’ HUMAN.

As with any natural process of the body, sometimes things do go wrong. But medical technology has advanced enough that nearly any pregnancy complication can be remedied. I mean, we can even do surgery on babies in utero! Addison Montgomery-Shepard, anyone?

Unfortunately, most OBGYNs today (and even some midwives) treat pregnancy like a disease rather than a natural process. Which means that they often rely heavily on monitoring, medication, and other interventions, even if everything in your body is moving along just fine 

(Which brings us to the next point).

You get to make choices about your pregnancy and birth.

Consent does not go out the window the second you become pregnant. Your doctor or midwife or mother does not get to dictate what your pregnancy and birth should look like.

And you have more choices than you think you do. Do you want to give birth in a hospital, at home, or in a birthing center? Do you want to have an OBGYN or a midwife as your primary provider? Do you want painkillers or other medications, or do you want to avoid those as much as possible?

YOU get to make these decisions. It is YOUR body and YOUR baby.

Midwives and doctors have, of course, had a lot more experience with pregnancy and birth than you, so they have plenty of knowledge and wisdom to share. Create a conversation with them so you know what is best for you and for your baby, and so they know you respect their expertise. BUT: doctors and midwives should never perform an intervention without your consent. 

Pregnancy and birth can and should be empowering, not terrifying.

So many women are afraid of birth. They are afraid of the pain, afraid something might happen to their baby if they don’t do exactly what the doctor says, afraid of being judged for choosing to do their pregnancy and birth in a way that deviates from the norm. Fear creeps into every conversation about birth, especially among those who haven’t ever had children of their own.

Society in general (and specifically, the entertainment industry and, unfortunately, large portions of the medical establishment) do little to calm the fears of millions of mothers-to-be. And fear interferes with the natural processes of labor, making it more difficult and therefore leading to more fear. It’s a vicious cycle that can attack even the most empowered, informed, and assertive woman.

I’ve read dozens of stories of women who had births that were empowering and fulfilling, rather than terrifying and traumatizing. These are women who trusted in themselves and their bodies to give birth, and who surrounded themselves with people who put the woman and her baby as the number one priority.

And so, I learned that birth could be a fulfilling and empowering experience, rather than a fearful one. Learning more and more about pregnancy and birth and reading or hearing birth stories by women who had great births has diminished any fears I once had. I encourage you to find ways to do this too. 

Be healthy now!

Healthy eating and gentle exercise will immediately be advised by your primary care provider when you get pregnant - and if you start forming those habits now, you’ll be 100% prepared when it matters to more than just you. You certainly don’t need to chart out how many pregnancy-preferred vitamins and minerals you get each day, but a balanced diet and regular exercise is something we’re all supposed to be doing anyway, and if reminding yourself that your future pregnant self will thank you for following through with that helps you, so be it.

Maintaining a healthy weight is also important. Significantly overweight women are often considered “high-risk” pregnancies, which means that some of the choices we talked about above may not be available to them, due to current medical standards and practices. If you have other health concerns that you want to know how they may affect a future pregnancy, talk to your doctor about it. (Remember point #1?)

If you are actively trying to conceive, it’s important  to know that alcohol, caffeine and a lack of folic acid (read: leafy greens) can sometimes harm your baby’s development before you even know you are pregnant. It’s wise to limit and avoid these harmful things if you could be pregnant very soon.

I don’t expect to have turned you into a birth nut like me by now. But I do hope you are inspired and encouraged to learn more about what your body can do and the choices and empowerment you can have during pregnancy and birth.

At times the cultural attitude about pregnancy and birth in the US can do more harm than good for women, their babies, and their families. But if we take it upon ourselves to learn more and think differently, pregnancy and birth can only get better for ourselves, our peers, and our daughters.  

Want the gory details? Try these books: Birth Matters by Ina May Gaskin & Get Me Out: A History of Childbirth from the Garden of Eden to the Sperm Bank by Randi Hutter Epstein

By Sophia Conti